INS Vikrant :-India’s First Indigenously Built Aircraft Carrier
As India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, is in its final stage of construction at the Cochin Shipyard, a walk through its massive innards and an examination of what its induction would mean for the Navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean.
A cool breeze blows over you belying the sultry May weather as you perch atop a 70-m, 300-tonne gantry crane at Cochin Shipyard. From this vantage position, everything appears dwarfed down below. Hundreds of workmen nudging the ferrous giant, India’s maiden indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, to life in the last leg of a protracted and intricate process of warship construction of unprecedented scale in the country, resemble Lilliputians with a sense of steely purpose. Vikrant’s flight deck, more than twice the size of a football field at 2.5 acres, is strewn with concrete blocks and a maze of wires criss-crossing and disappearing into makeshift worksites.
It is tempting to picture MiG-29K combat jets flying off the deck, streaking into the deep blue ocean sky in a matter of a few years! The flyco (flight control) stationed in the superstructure located on the starboard side would be on the toes, the radars atop the island carrying out flight control and guiding the missiles the carrier will be equipped with to engage aerial targets.
The Vikrant is a class of aircraft carrier being built for the Indian Navy. The class represents the largest warships and the first aircraft carriers to be designed and built in India. The lead ship of the class is also the first aircraft carrier designed and built in Asia featuring STOBAR and ski-jumps, and the first built to operate jet-powered aircraft.
The IAC program will eventually field two ships in the Vikrant-class – the INS Vikrant as the lead ship and her sister, the INS Vishal. However, while the Vikrant will be completed as a 40,000 ton design with ski-ramp flight deck, it was announced in August of 2012 that the Vishal will sport a more conventional “flat top” deck arrangement with catapult launching facilities (known as “CATOBAR” = “Catapult-Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery”). With this design initiative, the Indian Navy will be allowed to launch larger and heavier fixed-wing aircraft such as Airborne Early Warning (AEW) types which are not possible with the limited STOBAR configuration – drastically broadening the Indian Navy’s power in local waters (particularly in regards to neighboring Pakistan and Pacific-Asian powerhouse China). The changes to the Vishal will make it a 65,000-ton vessel with an all-new flight deck.
The design and construction of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier was sanctioned by the government in January 2003. The keel of the ship was laid on 28 Feb 2009 by Shri AK Antony. Vikrant marks a special feather in indigenous defence capabilities- this being the first ever aircraft carrier to be designed by the Directorate of Naval Design of the Indian Navy, the first warship to be built by Cochin Shipyard Limited and the first warship to be built entirely using indigenously produced steel. The construction of the ship is a truly pan Indian effort with active participation of private and public enterprises. The steel has come from SAIL’s plants in Raurkela in Orissa, Bokaro in Jharkand and Bhilai in Chattisgarh; the Main Switch Board, steering gear and water tight hatches have been manufactured by Larsen and Toubro in its plants in Mumbai and Talegaon; the high capacity air conditioning and refrigeration systems have been manufactured in Kirloskar’s plants in Pune; most pumps have been supplied by Best and Crompton, Chennai; Bharat Heavy Engineering Limited (BHEL) is supplying the Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS); the massive gear box is supplied by Elecon in Gujarat; the tens of thousands of electrical cable is supplied by Nicco industries in Kokatta; Kolkatta is also where the ship’s anchor chain cable is manufactured.
“Vikrant, the ‘mother’ of all platforms, has 2,300 compartments designed to user specifications for crew, systems, piping, fluids, ventilations, cabling… Nearly 1,500 km of cabling, almost the distance from Kochi to Mumbai, criss-cross its innards,” informs Capt. Padmanabhan, pointing to the trunking in the compartments. The yard carried out detailed designing, developing 3D models and creating mock-ups on the old-school ‘mould loft floor’ for critical parts like anchor pocket and hosepipe arrangement besides using virtual reality to simulate extremely critical parts. Italian firm Fincantieri was roped in to provide consultancy for the propulsion package while Russian support was sought for the aviation complex given that the carrier would have an integral fleet of Russian MiG-29K fighters and Kamov helicopters, a la INS Vikramaditya, which would also ensure interoperability between the carriers.
Vikrant will be capable of operating an aircraft mix of the Russian MiG-29K and LCA (Navy) fighters being developed indigenously by HAL. Its helicopter component will include the Kamov 31 and the indigenously developed ALH helicopters. The ship’s ability to sense and control a large air space around it will be enabled by modern C/D band Early Air Warning Radar, V/UHF Tactical Air Navigational and Direction Finding systems, jamming capabilities over the expected Electro Magnetic (EM) environment and Carrier Control Approach Radars to aid air operations. Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR SAM) systems with Multi-Function Radar (MFR) and Close- In Weapon System (CIWS) will form the protective suite of the ship. All weapon systems onboard the carrier will be integrated through an indigenous Combat Management System (CMS), being manufactured by Tata Power systems. The ship’s integration with Navy’s Network Centric Operations will provide force multiplication.
As of this writing (2012), the Vikrant will be defensed by 4 x 76mm Otobreda dual-purpose cannons and backed by several surface-to-air missile emplacements . For short-ranged work against incoming aircraft or missiles, a digitally-controlled Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) will be installed.
A Selex RAN-40L L-band early warning radar system will be part of the defensive network of sensor and systems processing.
Dimensionally, the INS Vikrant will sport a running length of 860 feet with a beam of 200 feet and a draught of 28 feet. She will be conventionally-powered by 4 x General Electric LM2500+ series gas turbines developing power to two shafts. Maximum speed in ideal conditions is estimated at 28 knots with an operational range out to 7,500 miles. Her crew complement will consist of 1,400 officers, sailors, airmen and mechanics.
Vikrant will now enter the second phase of construction which will see the outfitting of the ship, fitment of various weapons and sensors, integration of the gigantic propulsion system and integration of the aircraft complex (with the assistance of M/s NDB of Russia). The ship will then undergo extensive trials before she is handed over to the Indian Navy by around 2016-17.
Make no mistake, the Vikrant endeavor is of great importance to the Navy of India. In terms of national pride, the initiative cannot be understated. However, this being its first “true” indigenous carrier-design-and-building attempt undertaken by the country, it has seen (and will continue to see) its fair share of challenges regarding available materials, experience, technological and engineering know-how to see the project to completion in a satisfactory way. To this end, the program has already surmounted several logistical obstacles presented though supply delays have been noted.
Until the Vikrant gains further traction in its quest to become India’s first home-grown carrier, the Navy will make due with its aging INS Viraat and fleet of outgoing Sea Harrier aircraft. The rise of the Chinese aircraft carrier fleet and commitment of the US Navy in the Pacific should do well to push the Indian initiative along.
Force multiplier at sea
Even as debate continues over the relevance of aircraft carriers with the proliferation of ballistic missiles and cost-benefit analysis with respect to submarines, there is an undeclared carrier race unfolding in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) between India, China and Japan. India has its force structure planned around three aircraft Carrier Battle Groups (CBG). While one would be deployed on each coast in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, the third would be in maintenance and repairs — ensuring the availability of two ships at any point of time.
For now the Navy has only one carrier, INS Vikramaditya, contracted from Russia under a $2.3-billion deal and inducted into service in November 2013. INS Viraat was recently retired from service after cumulatively serving the British and Indian Navies for over 50 years. In that line, when the new INS Vikrant joins the Navy sometime after 2020, it would be the fourth aircraft carrier to defend India’s shores. Each of these carriers has grown in size, capability and sophistication adding more teeth to Navy’s power projection.
The first Vikrant displaced 20,000 tonnes and operated a mix of Westland Sea Kings, HAL Chetak and Sea Harrier jets. Viraat displaced 28,500 tonnes and Vikramaditya displaces 45,400 tonnes. The new Vikrant will displace 40,000 tonnes.
While the first two carriers operated the Harriers which are capable of short take-off and vertical landing, the Vikramaditya’s angular fight deck enables hosting of Mig-29K fighters; the modern Russian fighters will fly from Vikrant as well. In addition, the U.S. is expected to help India with the aviation trials of Vikrant.
Barak 8 on INS Vikrant
Israel has recently signed a $2 billion deal to supply a missile defense system to the Indian Army, which can destroy aircraft, missiles and drones within a radius of 70 km.
Reports have it that the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will jointly build 16 launchers and 560 missiles, including the Barak-8 mid-range missile system.
Israel Aerospace Industries, a defense company in Israel, has received the contract to supply mid-range advanced missile systems to India in what is being called ‘the largest defense contract between the two countries’.
Apart from this, there has also been an agreement for the installation of this missile system in 40 INS Vikrant aircraft carriers.
This defense agreement of worth $2 billion was finalised before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel, and is believed to be crucial in strengthening the bilateral defense strategic partnership between the two countries.
Earlier in February, the Cabinet Committee on Security, under supervision of PM Modi, had approved the missile defense system project. It will cost Rs 16 thousand 830 crore.